Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

America’s Failing Drone War in Yemen

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In February, Eric Schmitt wrote in the New York Times about the Obama administration’s emerging Yemen strategy, whereby U.S. and Yemeni intelligence and military officials would “work together to kill or capture about two dozen of al Qaeda’s most dangerous operatives, who are focused on attacking America and its interests.” Like all previous objectives of America’s Long Third War of drone strikes, the scope of intended targets has expanded far beyond those two dozen individuals, who should have been killed at least nine times over by now.  According to the Long Wars Journal database, there have been forty U.S. airstrikes (drone or fixed-wing) in Yemen this year, up from ten in 2011. These have killed 223 people, an estimated 19 percent of them were civilians. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Drones, Leaving Afghanistan, and Iran

by Micah Zenko Saturday, December 22, 2012

DOD Decision Makers Need Additional Analyses to Determine Costs and Benefits of Returning Excess Equipment, Government Accountability Office, December 19, 2012.

In June 2011, the United States announced plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The remaining U.S. forces will work to support the U.S. objective of a transition to Afghan-led security by December 2014. The Department of Defense (DOD) has begun planning for this reduction and, as part of its planning, has identified more than 750,000 major end items–equipment important to operational readiness to support the combat forces, such as weapons and vehicles–that can be returned from Afghanistan (to DOD inventories), transferred to another U.S. government agency or another country, or destroyed in theater. According to DOD, this equipment, estimated to be worth more than $36 billion, has accumulated during a 10-year period. DOD officials also estimate that it could cost $5.7 billion to return or transfer equipment from Afghanistan. Read more »

Preventive Priorities Survey 2013: Top Thirty Global Hotspots

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 21, 2012
A man shouts during an anti-China rally in Tokyo, Japan, on September 22, 2012 (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters). A man shouts during an anti-China rally in Tokyo, Japan, on September 22, 2012 (Toru Hanai/Courtesy Reuters).

This post originally appeared on the Atlantic online.

President Obama has repeatedly pledge to do “nation-building at home” during his second-term.  However, it is likely that unanticipated world events will prevent this single-minded focus—as they do for most presidents.  President Obama and his new foreign policy team cannot plan for, prevent, or mitigate all the crises that the United States could potentially face in 2013. They must prioritize the contingencies that warrant the attention of senior policymakers. The Center for Preventive Action’s Preventive Priorities Survey (PPS) seeks to help in that process by identifying plausible contingencies and ranking them based on their potential impact to U.S. interests and likelihood of occurring in 2013. Read more »

Guest Post: The United States Should Maintain a Leadership Role in International Maritime Law

by Guest Blogger for Micah Zenko Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The U.S.S. Enterprise in the Atlantic Ocean (Handout/Courtesy Reuters). The U.S.S. Enterprise in the Atlantic Ocean (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

Captain Peter Troedsson is military fellow, U.S. Coast Guard, at the Council on Foreign Relations.

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Times—“No Time to Get LOST,” by Mr. Ed Feulner—was representative of many who lament that there may finally be progress toward the long overdue ratification of the Law of the Sea. It is readily apparent to members of both political parties, academia, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the media, the Pentagon, and many others that this is the right thing to do. Mr. Feulner’s assertion to the contrary centers on his belief that the United States already has unfettered access to areas of the outer continental shelf beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ); that area beyond the U.S. territorial limit of twelve miles, out to two hundred miles. His justification is: “Presidents have issued proclamations and Congress has enacted laws establishing America’s maritime boundaries…[and that] no one has challenged them.” Unfortunately, he has confused what lies within established U.S. boundaries with that vast expanse that lies outside its territorial seas and EEZ. Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Predicting Future Wars, Drones, Secrecy

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 14, 2012
A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper prepares for take-off from Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan (Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr./Courtesy U.S. Air Force). A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper prepares for take-off from Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan (Staff Sgt. James L. Harper Jr./Courtesy U.S. Air Force).

Remarks by Secretary Leon Panetta at Ali Salem Air Base, December 12, 2012.

The war of the future is going to involve cyber war.  That’s a reality.  We will do that; others will do that.” Read more »

Perils of Intervention in the Syrian Civil War

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover in Aleppo (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters). A Free Syrian Army fighter runs for cover in Aleppo (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters).

The New York Times ran a feature story yesterday that highlights many of the reasons the United States should refrain from intervening in other countries’ civil wars. Based on reporting from Syria and interviews with leaders of opposition groups, the piece can be distilled into two of the more notable analytical statements: Read more »

You Might Have Missed: Iran, Robot Soldiers, and Pentagon Propaganda

by Micah Zenko Friday, December 7, 2012
A U.S. helicopter hovers over an Iranian patrol ship in the Strait of Hormuz (Jumana El-Heloueh/Courtesy Reuters). A U.S. helicopter hovers over an Iranian patrol ship in the Strait of Hormuz (Jumana El-Heloueh/Courtesy Reuters).

Jessica Donati and Daniel Fineren, “Exclusive: Iran Shipping Signals Conceal Syria Ship Movements,” Reuters, December 6, 2012.

Large vessels must transmit their identity and location to other ships and coastal authorities using an automatic satellite communication system, but in the last month Iranian vessels sailing in Asian seas have sent signals that took over the identity of other vessels, so the same ship appeared to be in two places at once. Read more »

A Primer on Drones

by Micah Zenko Wednesday, December 5, 2012
A MQ-1 Predator drone prepares to take off on a mission (Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester/Courtesy U.S. Air Force). A MQ-1 Predator drone prepares to take off on a mission (Master Sgt. Demetrius Lester/Courtesy U.S. Air Force).

Whenever I speak about the emergence of drone warfare and how it has been used for U.S. targeted killings, people react with a mix of unease, fascination, and curiosity. They also often ask for suggested readings on drones, and I rarely have a good answer readily available. Read more »